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Tag: COVID-19

The Year the World Went Viral (Dauvé, 2021)


by Gilles Dauvé, Feb 2021

Until the early days of 2020, when they spoke of “viruses”, Westerners usually meant something was wrong with their computers (Asians were arguably better informed). Of course, everyone knew the medical meaning of the word, but these viruses remained far away (Ebola), relatively silent despite the 3 million annual deaths from AIDS (HIV), even banal (winter flu, cause of “only” 10,000 deaths in France each year). And if sickness struck, medicine worked miracles. It had even done away with space: from New York, a surgeon could operate upon a patient in Strasbourg.

Back then, it was mostly the machines that got sick.

Until the first days of 2020.

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The Age of Disorder


Deutsche Bank, Long-Term Asset Return Study, Sept 2020


Economic cycles come and go, but sitting above them are the wider structural super-cycles that shape everything from economies to asset prices, politics, and our general way of life. In this note we have identified five such cycles over the last 160 years, and we think the world is on the cusp of a new era – one that will be characterised initially by disorder.

Not all disorder is ‘bad’. Indeed, if the themes of the world economy swing like a pendulum, then it may be that some have swung too far from a ‘sensible centre’ and are due to revert. This can have a cleansing effect. What is worrying, though, is that several themes appear poised to revert at a similar time. This is the point – that simultaneous changes to structural themes will create a level of disorder that will define a new era.

Before we review the key themes of the upcoming “Age of Disorder”, we must note that while some historical super-cycles have begun and ended abruptly, others were slower to evolve and end. The most recent era – the second era of globalisation, during 1980-2020 – is much more like the latter. It started slowly and has been gradually fraying at the edges over the last half-decade. The end of this era has been hastened by Covid-19 and – when, in years to come, we look at the rear- view mirror – we may see 2020 as the start of a new era.

Epidemics may have social scarring effects, increasing the likelihood of social unrest. They may also have mitigating effect, suppressing unrest by dissuading social activities. Using a new monthly panel on social unrest in 130 countries, we find a positive cross-sectional relationship between social unrest and epidemics. But the relationship reverses in the short run, implying that the mitigating effect dominates in the short run. Recent trends in social unrest immediately before and after the COVID-19 outbreak are consistent with this historic evidence. It is reasonable to expect that, as the pandemic fades, unrest may reemerge in locations where it previously existed.

Onward Barbarians (Endnotes, 2020)


An anti-government protester returns a tear gas canister to police during clashes in Santiago, Chile, on March 6, 2020. Esteban Felix / AP

by Endnotes, Dec 2020

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At the beginning of May 2020, hunger riots erupted in Santiago, Chile. Lockdowns had deprived men and women of their incomes to the point of near starvation. A large movement of self-organized community kitchens soon spread across the country. Later in the month, riots spread through Mexico in response to the police murder of Giovanni López — a construction worker who had been arrested for not wearing a mask — while thousands of despairing migrant workers broke the curfew in India. Some Amazon warehouse workers in the US and Germany had begun to strike in protest at poor COVID-19 safety protocols. (1) Yet these stirrings of workers’ struggle in the world’s largest retailer were quickly drowned out, at the end of May, by a mass movement of unprecedented size that swept across the US in revulsion at the live-streamed police murder of George Floyd. Largely initiated by black residents of Minneapolis, the uprising was quickly joined by Americans from every place, race and class. In the first riots and demos one could even spot a few supportive militiamen in a Querfront worthy of the age of QAnon. (2)

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The State of the Pandemic (Toscano, 2020)


by Alberto Toscano, Historical Materialism 28.4 (2020) 3–23


The Covid-19 pandemic has further intensified a crisis in the functions and the perception of the state. It has also revealed underlying contradictions in both mainstream and radical ideologies of the state. A desire for the state as guarantor of public welfare vies with fear of the state’s hypertrophic capacities for surveillance and control. Following a brief exploration of the intimate modern connection between plagues and the state, the article tries to map some of the ways in which the state has been at stake in political and theoretical commentaries on the pandemic. Is an epidemiological politics from below, beyond the plague state, possible? Can recent emergency measures be seen as incomplete or inverted anticipations of a communist use of the state of exception? Or is the primacy of the political we are currently experiencing a mere fetish, indissociable from the rule of capital?

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Mask Off: Crisis & Struggle in the Pandemic

Screen-Shot-2020-05-17-at-3.40.52-PM – Richard Hunsinger & Nathan Eisenberg give an in-depth analysis of the current crisis where economic breakdown, pandemic, and mass revolt collide into a historic conjuncture that will forever shape the trajectory of world events. June 2020. DOWNLOAD PDF

We are running out of places to keep the bodies. In Detroit, a hospital resorted to stacking up the dead on top of each other in a room usually used for sleep studies. In New York, the epicenter of the pandemic where, for a week in April, someone died of COVID-19 every 3 minutes, a fleet of refrigeration trucks is enabling interment in parking lots for overcrowded hospitals. The chair of New York’s City Council health committee, publicly stated that they were preparing contingency plans, per a 2016 “fatality surge” study, to dig mass graves in a public park. The resulting moral backlash prompted Mayor de Blasio to deny any such plans would be carried out, but he would go on to emphasize the necessity for mass graves on Hart Island, an old potter’s field in the Bronx long home to the unclaimed corpses of the indigent, which has quintupled its monthly intake of bodies. As is protocol, the excess demand for the work of burying bodies on the island is being met with the use of prison labor from Rikers Island, which itself has the highest infection rate in the world. The situation in private funeral homes is similarly dire. Dozens of corpses were recently found rotting in U-Hauls outside a funeral home in New York. In Ecuador, there are cases of bodies being wrapped in plastic and left on the sidewalk for days before strained hospitals can send an ambulance, prompting engineers in Colombia to come to their aid by developing hospital beds that transform into coffins. Mass graves are cropping up across the world, in Ukraine, in Iran, in Brazil. A man in Manaus, Brazil, interviewed by a Guardian reporter while watching his mother’s coffin be lowered into a trench alongside 20 others, despaired, “They were just dumped there like dogs. What are our lives worth now? Nothing.”

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The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations


What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.

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Irrational Expectations


by Geoff Mann (Viewpoint, April 2020, PDF)

However much upheaval the global COVID-19 pandemic has generated, a great deal more is coming. The economic disaster is already the object of frantic analysis, much of which tells us we can expect a bottom that matches or exceeds the Great Depression of the 1930s, at least as measured by conventional economic indicators like GDP, unemployment, and bankruptcies. This narrative provides the backbeat to the competing attempts to organize our attention during the passage through present and future trials.

While we are endlessly reminded that “we are all in this together”—a blatant act of false solidarity—many have also pointed out that we were never “all in this together” before the pandemic, we are not now, and it is quite possible we will emerge from this even less together than we were. At least in terms of wealth and income inequality, the prospects do not look good. The relatively well-off will weather the lockdown more comfortably and without the threat of eviction, debt default, and hunger, and they will return to better-paid and stable work more quickly.

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Pandemic: the explosion point of the capitalist relation?


by Antithesi (April 18, 2020)

The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life… In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…

Guy Debord, The sick planet

The outbreak of the pandemic and its spread all over the world is the most recent expression of what Debord has identified half a century ago as the “economic ill”. Capital is not only a class relation of exploitation and domination but also a relation of alienation of society from nature in which both the producers of social wealth and non-human nature as an autonomous productive force are transformed into objects that are dominated and plundered by it. The continuously expanding process of the subsumption of nature under capital is conflictual and contradictory. The consequences of this subsumption emerge as phenomena like global warming, the infestation of farmland with superweeds, the slowdown of agricultural productivity and, today, the coronavirus pandemic.

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Revolutionary working class strategy for the 21st century – Part 1 (Angry Workers of the World)


Reflections on ‘uneven and combined development’ and ‘class composition’

Angry Workers of the World – April 2020


From a perspective that puts the working class into the driver’s seat of social emancipation we find ourselves in a contradictory situation. During the last decades workers, as in people who have to sell their labour power to survive, have become the majority on the planet. When Marx, from his armchair, called for ‘workers of the world’ to unite, workers were actually a tiny minority globally, islands in a sea of independent artisans, peasants and forced labourers. Only today can we really speak of a ‘global working class’, but to the same degree that ‘being a worker’ has become a global phenomenon, ‘the working class’ seems to have disappeared. 

via Revolutionary working class strategy for the 21st century – Part 1 — Angry Workers of the World

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (1722)


by Daniel Defoe (1722)  [background] /PDF]

being observations or memorials
of the most remarkable occurrences,
as well public as private, which happened in
London during the last great visitation in 1665.
Written by a Citizen who continued
all the while in London.
Never made public before

It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse that the plague was returned again in Holland; for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in the year 1663, whither, they say, it was brought, some said from Italy, others from the Levant, among some goods which were brought home by their Turkey fleet; others said it was brought from Candia; others from Cyprus. It mattered not from whence it came; but all agreed it was come into Holland again.

We had no such thing as printed newspapers in those days to spread rumours and reports of things, and to improve them by the invention of men, as I have lived to see practised since. But such things as these were gathered from the letters of merchants and others who corresponded abroad, and from them was handed about by word of mouth only; so that things did not spread instantly over the whole nation, as they do now. But it seems that the Government had a true account of it, and several councils were held about ways to prevent its coming over; but all was kept very private. Hence it was that this rumour died off again, and people began to forget it as a thing we were very little concerned in, and that we hoped was not true; till the latter end of November or the beginning of December 1664 when two men, said to be Frenchmen, died of the plague in Long Acre, or rather at the upper end of Drury Lane. The family they were in endeavoured to conceal it as much as possible, but as it had gotten some vent in the discourse of the neighbourhood, the Secretaries of State got knowledge of it; and concerning themselves to inquire about it, in order to be certain of the truth, two physicians and a surgeon were ordered to go to the house and make inspection. This they did; and finding evident tokens of the sickness upon both the bodies that were dead, they gave their opinions publicly that they died of the plague. Whereupon it was given in to the parish clerk, and he also returned them to the Hall; and it was printed in the weekly bill of mortality in the usual manner, thus—

     Plague, 2. Parishes infected, 1.

The people showed a great concern at this, and began to be alarmed all over the town, and the more, because in the last week in December 1664 another man died in the same house, and of the same distemper. And then we were easy again for about six weeks, when none having died with any marks of infection, it was said the distemper was gone; but after that, I think it was about the 12th of February, another died in another house, but in the same parish and in the same manner.

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What are the causes of the coronavirus?


A socialist biologist explains the tight links between new viruses, industrial food production, and the profitability of multinational corporations.

The new coronavirus is keeping the world in a state of shock. But instead of fighting the structural causes of the pandemic, the government is focusing on emergency measures.

Yaak Pabst for the German socialist magazine Marx21 spoke to evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, author of Big Farms Make Big Flu (Monthly Review Press, 2016) about the dangers of Covid-19, the responsibility of agribusiness and sustainable solutions to combat infectious diseases. Marx21 released the interview in advance of its scheduled March 30 publication date. 

Marx21: How dangerous is the new coronavirus?

Rob Wallace: It depends on where you are in the timing of your local outbreak of Covid-19: early, peak level, late? How good is your region’s public health response? What are your demographics? How old are you? Are you immunologically compromised? What is your underlying health? To ask an undiagnosable possibility, do your immuogenetics, the genetics underlying your immune response, line up with the virus or not?

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Social Contagion: Microbiological Class War in China (Chuang, 2020)


The Furnace

Wuhan is known colloquially as one of the “four furnaces” (四大火炉) of China for its oppressively hot humid summer, shared with Chongqing, Nanjing and alternately Nanchang or Changsha, all bustling cities with long histories along or near the Yangtze river valley. Of the four, Wuhan, however, is also sprinkled with literal furnaces: the massive urban complex acts as a sort of nucleus for the steel, concrete and other construction-related industries of China, its landscape dotted with the slowly-cooling blast furnaces of the remnant state-owned iron and steel foundries, now plagued by overproduction and forced into a contentious new round of downsizing, privatization and general restructuring—itself resulting in several large strikes and protests in the last five years. The city is essentially the construction capital of China, which means it has played a particularly important role in the period after the global economic crisis, since these were the years in which Chinese growth was buoyed by the funneling of investment funds into infrastructure and real estate projects. Wuhan not only fed this bubble with its oversupply of building materials and civil engineers but also, in so doing, became a real estate boomtown of its own. According to our own calculations, in 2018-2019 the total area dedicated to construction sites in Wuhan was equivalent to the size of Hong Kong island as a whole.

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